Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ten Commandments: Liturgy Lessons from St. Clement's

As I finish my last week as Curate of St. Clement's, I thought I might share some of the (lighthearted) lessons that I have learned about liturgy in this bastion of smoke and bells, shrines and processions.
Heavily laden on Palm Sunday.
10.  When in doubt, genuflect. Better to do it too often, rather than not often enough when passing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the Bishop, or a Relic of the True Cross (yes, St. Clement's has one).  If you stumble, perform a double genuflection and bow to the tabernacle, asserting confidently that it's an oddity of the Ambrosian Rite in the 15th century. You'd be surprised how many people will believe you!

9.  Lace only on major feasts and during Eastertide.  At any other time, it somehow seems garish and tacky.  Forbidden for requiems, and during Advent, the Gesimas (if your parish is one of the rare ones that still observes them), and Lent.

8. If there's an error in the service bulletin (unless it's a typo), act as if you did it on purpose, and follow what's printed.
Our faithful band of altar servers.
7.  If one of the servers makes a mistake, SMILE at him, and carry on as if nothing happened.  If you yourself make a mistake, smile even more broadly.  There's no point in upping the anxiety level.  We all make mistakes.  Correct gently and praise lavishly.  Good liturgy requires teamwork and collegiality.

6.  When passing objects to the celebrant, REMEMBER, kiss the object, then the hand when passing it off; but do the reverse when receiving the object back, kissing the hand, then the object.  The same principle applies when passing the celebrant his beverage at coffee hour after mass or a post-Evensong sherry.

Corpus Christi

5.  Never turn your back on the Blessed Sacrament when it is exposed upon the altar, but turn, so that you end up with your back to the altar with the Sacrament next to you; and if you must descend the altar, do so at a slight angle toward the monstrance.  Anything else will earn a stern look from Jesus, the Rector, and especially the MC.

Grim priest with broken hand.
4.  Remember my broken right hand?  Yeah, I separated my thumb and index finger after the consecration and paid the price.  At least, that's the joke that made its way through the parish!

3.  However slowly you're walking in procession, you're probably walking too fast.  Processions should never be lethargic and funereal, but neither should they be a forced march.  Slow it down, so that everyone can keep pace.

2. Learn the "off-the-menu" specials.  Part of what happens liturgically in the parish may not be found in the Prayer Book, the Missal, or the published customary, but may be enshrined in custom.  In morning prayer, for example, the asterisks telling us where to pause in the Te Deum are not in the 1928 Prayer Book, but everyone knows where they're supposed to be, and we pause accordingly.  In evening prayer, the versicle and responses, "Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy," before the Lord's Prayer are not in the Prayer Book, but we say them, anyway.

1.  When blessing ashes, palms, a statue, candles, or some other object, this is the proper sequence: put incense into thurible, and then return it to the thurifer.  Sprinkle the object with holy water.  Only then does the celebrant receive the thurible back to cense the object.  Incense - sprinkle - cense.

*  And just as a bonus:  when there's a problem:  Rector (smiling):  "I blame the curate."  Curate (also smiling): "So do I.  That's what curates are for."


  1. I love these! I will enforce the kissing of the hand starting Sunday!

    1. I'm glad you think they're helpful. But be careful when offering your hand to the acolyte for kissing that you don't smack him or her in the face! I've been on the receiving end of that on occasion .

  2. Hi, actually I'm just curious. The practices are so similar to Catholicism.. Did you ever thought why not be catholic?